Friday, May 22, 2015

Closing doors

The alarm drags me from a deep sleep. Within minutes our air mattress is deflated, last minute items stowed in our bags and the car packed. The house of Tim's childhood now stands empty, his parents having been moved into the nursing home last year. The sounds of childhood laughter, old TV programs, running toddler feet and shared meals echo faintly in the empty rooms. The family picture wall is blank and painted with fresh coats of bland paint suitable to market the house, but my mind still sees them there, denying the For Sale sign in the front yard. We know we will never be back inside this house of memories because an offer has been accepted and the new owners will take possession before we return. We take a last sweep through for missed belongings and close the door.

Kintala safely on the hard, we're headed across the country to our old condo to get it ready to put on the market. The renters are moving out next week and we'll begin the process of cleaning and painting in preparation for our own For Sale sign in the yard, hoping with all our might that the real estate agent's assessment of the market is correct and that this time we will successfully divest ourselves of this land anchor.

We've closed a lot of doors in our forty years of marriage. Aviation kept us moving a lot and Kintala is our 17th home in those years. Some of those doors we were happy to close, others left me weeping as I pulled the door shut. All of them brought significant change to our lives, but probably none as much as closing the door to the condo and moving on to the boat. During this brief visit we listened to Tim's sister as she recounted the horror stories of dealing with 55 years of stuff embedded in every nook and cranny of his parent's house. We sat around a restaurant table last evening and listened as my niece-in-law (is there such a thing?) recounted her frustration with corporate society. We dodged distracted drivers in frenetic traffic, surfed hundreds of cable channels to find nothing, strolled through malls filled with useless merchandise. While some doors will always hurt to close (grandkids are the number one reason people quit cruising...), closing the door on our condo, two years after going cruising, is an affirmation of this new life we have chosen. I'll miss the kids terribly, but I'll be ready to head home soon.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A visit unexpected …

The fully loaded Boeing 737-300 rumbled far down the runway before the nose wheel floated free of the concrete. Seconds later the rest of the gear cleared Mother Earth and was tucked away for the short flight to Pittsburgh. The haze thickened, turned into a cloud layer, and then fell away as we climbed into the low flight levels.

Flight levels start somewhere around 18,000 feet above my normal living altitude, (sea level). A good portion of my career was spent in that realm, at the helm of various kinds of exotic machinery built for those extreme conditions. That last two machines I captained blew happily along in the mid flight levels, 35 to 45,000, at speeds around 500 mph. Like most pilots I kept a careful log of each hour spent in the sky. It was like being airborne was the only part of life worth a special mention, home in a way only pilots understand. For most of the best pilots I have known, such an assessment is far closer to the truth than any of us would openly admit.

Those days came to an abrupt end, my career terminated in about as ugly a way as can be imagined. (Short of digging a big, smoking hole.) Log books got stashed away in a safe deposit box while headsets and other cockpit paraphernalia were gifted to friends still in the game. Ipads, once used for approach plates, were eventually loaded with Navionics and Garmin Blue Charts. I walked away from my last flight without looking back. Heading for a new kind of living, the part of my life worth special mention would lay on the surface of the sea and at the helm of a different kind of machine. Life is short enough. Spending time in the past only makes it shorter.

But modern life, at least in the US, is spread out. Kids and grand kids are scattered across a good part of a very big country, other family scattered even further. Flying is the only option, though I would consider sailing Kintala down interstate 70 if it could be done. Drivers think I go slow in a car? Ha!

Now, for only the fifth time since we set out on the boat, the ground fell away outside the window. I don't care so much about seeing out, but they are about the only seats where I can lean to the side and get some sleep. The four flights before this one passed mostly that way. Once in the sky thoughts tuned briefly to an old life that held little allure but the sky held no special interest.  What I wanted most was for the crush of lines, security, and noise, to be over.  Flights were endured.

This time I found myself gazing out at the passing clouds. BWI to PIT is only 40 minutes at jet speeds. Soon we were letting down into a gray and bumpy overcast. The auto-flight system in jets work extremely well. I doubt many of the other passengers noted the subtle sashays of pitch and yaw, and few would realize that the contrail flowing off the corner of the deployed flap indicated how humid the sky was. I felt the turn onto the approach though we were still a thousand feet or so above the ground when the tree covered hills of PA hove into few. The pilot flying missed a perfect landing by scant inches, recovered well, and set his machine down on RW10R with a satisfying thump. Boards levered up from the wings, TRs slid open, brakes rumbled, and the first flight I have enjoyed in a couple of years turned toward the gate.

It is highly unlikely I will ever command the cockpit of a jet in the flight levels again but, no matter. It is no longer home. My world view has shifted, the need for the mad rush not part of my DNA. A world without boarders, laced together with trains, ships, and pretty roads filled with efficient cars and bicycles – without a single billboard - is closer to my ideal now. And airships, how cool would that be? Ideas and thoughts, the very things that make us human, flow around the world at near the speed of light. There is really no need for the rest of the human body to try so hard for a speed that is a paltry 0.0000747% of light's velocity. (Unless my math failed me this morning, 0.0000747% of the speed of light works out to about 500mph.)

Still, it was good to visit my old life and, for all of my change in view, remember it fondly.

Note: blog time is now several days behind real time. After visits in PA and IN, we are now safely in MO.

Sunday, May 17, 2015


"So, you are the surveyor who is supposed to know what he is doing..”

Some might suggest such was not the best way to start a survey. But there was method to my madness. Before me stood the second surveyor we had contacted about getting Kintala a new rap sheet. The first was someone with whom we had been talking for several months. One who assured us he would be available to get the job done before our current insurance policy ran out. Just days before that deadline said surveyor disappeared into the vapor. Emails were ignored and phone message provoked no response. Yet another marine professional measuring up to the customer service standards of the industry. Deb was concerned about the deadline. I was downright unhappy.

Short on time we asked JB for a recommendation. He came up with Art Johnson Marine Surveyors. Deb called, explained our dilemma and shared some of our history with those practicing the surveyor's black art. With no alternative we set up an appointment for just two days before heading west.

The message behind my greeting should have been obvious to anyone paying attention. "Let us tolerate no illusions here. Deb has shared our history of surveys and explained the resulting insurance difficulties. I am short-tempered, skeptical, and do not intend to be trodden on again."

Kintala's was not the only survey being done. I hoped Mr. Johnson was paying attention.

After our introduction and with some preliminary paperwork finished, Mr. Johnson started at the keel, methodically working his way forward and up. He moved his moisture meter along the hull, the needle jumping when waved over the bottom paint. “Here we go again,” I thought to myself, fearing another round of Universal Hydraulic Migration.

“Just out of the water I see, the bottom paint hasn't dried out yet. This is a good, sound, dry hull.”

He made no mention of the small repair I need to do at the keel joint. He looked at it; looked at me. I nodded. He moved on. We talked about the various through-hulls. What were they for, when were they serviced last. Partly, I think, he was just checking to make sure I knew something about my boat. The idea made me smile. He checked the size and pitch of the prop, mentioned that the cutlass bearing had a couple of hundred hours of run time left in it. Spinning the prop he looked up, “V-drive?”

“Yes, and less than five years old.”

“Thought so. That much lash would be worrisome if was just the transmission.”

I smiled some more.

Outside bottom done he climbed the ladder to the deck. “Forward and to port” I called “is the deck repair I did last summer.” It is one of the things from the last survey that is killing us with the insurance companies. Mr. Johnson moved forward and to port, looked, and nodded. Then he added, “Why was this in the last survey? It isn't structural. I would mention it to an owner, but it is only an issue when a wet deck it at the mast or the hull/deck joint, sometimes under or near a cleat."

My smile was almost a full grin. Full grins are not in my normal repertoire of facial expressions when dealing with anyone from the marine industry.

He said the standing and running rigging, except for the jib sheets, looked good and pretty new. I suggested that the jib sheets had some life left in them and stated that the standing rigging had been done right at Oak Harbor less than two years ago. “Thought so,” he replied. “They do good work here.”

They do indeed. Mr. Johnson, it was becoming clear, actually did know what he was doing.

Deb joined him when he moved below. Things were examined, part numbers got checked and verified, he poked and prodded with the deliberate cadence of someone with long practice. Later he mentioned a small electrical item in the engine room that I know about. (Every one says rubber cover boots can be found everywhere. I have yet to find one that fits the starter relay.) He insisted we toss a depleted fire extinguisher directly into the dumpster, a good idea when one thinks of it. He was pleased to see how many good ones we had stashed around the boat. “Too many people,” he added, “go off shore with the absolute minimum number allowed. It isn't the kind of thing I can put in a survey, but I mention it to boat owners all the time.”

A few hours later and it was done. Mr. Johnson collected a reasonable amount of money from us, shook hands, allowed again that we had a good looking boat, and went about his business. After he left Deb brought up one item uncovered, one that sets the tone of this survey. It is a minor thing really, and more than a little embarrassing for me. (Feel free to make some fun at my expense, it is well deserved.)

Every mention I can recall about the Tartan 42 is that she holds 79 gallons of diesel.  It says so right in the Manual.  I know the broker and former owner used that number, and both of our previous surveys say the same thing.

The faded tag on the tank itself says “64”.

Mr. Johnson was the only one who caught it.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Running on auto-empty

The deadline for heading West has been driving our days, with me really hoping to have the Auto-helm mod done before we set out. Adding to the fun was me making a serious visit to the state of unhealthy, a decline which matched the unfolding demise of the auto-helm mod. As I felt worse and moved slower, bits and parts in the attempt to mount the ST1000 on the port cockpit coaming bent, twisted, broke, and failed. On the first attempt to power up the unit the course read-out showed a heading of 81 degrees. Kintala is facing just about due south as she sits in the stands; something was seriously wonky. (And not just with my bits and parts.) As it turns out the ST1000 only “knows” where it is if it is sitting laterally across the boat. Since it is designed to drive tiller steering rather than being attached to the rudder via a wind vane, it made perfect sense that it would get lost if mounted longitudinally. Perfect sense, that is, after 3 ugly days of struggling to get work done when it was near impossible just to get out of the v-berth. Amazing how smart one gets when finally recognizing what is happening right in front of one's eyes, but that's what happens when running on empty.

So yesterday all previous work was scrapped (leaving several new holes in the cockpit that I need to fill) and a whole other approach had to be dreamed up. The good news was that, for the first time in days, I could actually function for hours at a time. They turned out to be productive hours. Today went even better and, even though there is a bit of touching up and final finish work to do, the circuit breaker on the panel marked “Autopilot” is now really wired to an actual auto pilot. All the access panels are closed, all the interior parts are installed, and the ST1000 can now sit across the stern of the boat on its very own, specially designed (and soon to be pretty) hardwood shelf; rigged to the Cape Horn. As soon as we get back – and it gets prettied up – I'm sure Deb will add some pictures. Getting that thing to fit in the narrow confines of a Tartan 42's stern was a bit of a challenge. And though it is clearly “after market” it doesn't look totally hacked. Even better, we don't need to buy a $465 remote to make it work.

There were still some struggles. The electrical plug provided so the unit can be easily removed is a seriously cheesy unit with tiny screws that barely hold the required size wire. I tried tinning the wire ends so the tiny screw could get a better "bite", but then the wire wouldn't fit at all. Fortunately I learned a long time ago to leave a little extra hanging out of the hole, just for such contingencies.

Then the instructions called for a certain size drill for the unit's mounting holes, all well and good except I was mounting it in fiberglass, not wood. Disassemble, re-drill,reassemble. Not a big deal but it was near the last task of the day. Though it was a much better day than the previous several, it was still a long one where I pushed pretty hard. Dealing with tinny little screws not quite up to the task and miss-sized holes, with feet dangle off Kintala's, narrow stern eight feet or so in the air, used up pretty much all I had to give for the day. But then Friends David and Nancy salvaged things by inviting us on an ice cream run after dinner. Ice cream will fix what ails ya ...

So, all in all, I am really pleased at how the last two days worked out; kind of a "just in time" thing. In twelve hours or so we should be with Daughter Youngest and Grand Kid 5, who are meeting us in Pittsburgh for a short Family visit. Then on to Indy to see Daughter Eldest and family for a short visit. Then to St. Louis to see Daughter Middle and family; get the condo on the market, and catch up with old friends at places like Lake Carlyle. Estimated time back to Kintala is six weeks. It will be a couple of more weeks on the hard after that, and then, finally, I'll get to see if the Auto-pilot works as well in the water as it seems to work on land.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

It's all good ...

JB and his crew made room, so Kintala is sitting on the hard. Before she went into the lift we stopped at the pump-out. Backing out of the slip and over to that part of the dock went well, and it looked like I knew what I was doing. From the pump-out dock to the lift was a straight, in-reverse run of maybe two boat lengths. Within moments JB was yelling at me, Deb was trying to get a word in edge-wise, and Kintala was being her normal obstinate self in reverse. No excuse, I totally botched the approach to the lift pit. Which, I am going to claim, proves that I am an “open water” kind of guy who doesn't do well in the tight confines of being near land. In any case, for the first time in nearly 19 months our old Tartan is dry, sitting on her keel, and surrounded by support stands. Every time I get off the boat there is this little mantra I need to remember: “We are on land now, it is 12 steps down a very steep ladder, and one can get seriously hurt if one is not careful.”

Land, I have decided, is a dangerous place to be.

No wonder land dwellers show such obvious signs of stress and mental challenges. It doesn't help that we have been driving around. Apparently driving every day does something evil to one's psyche. What, pray tell, is wrong with these people getting too close, going too fast, talking on the phone, and clearly not paying much attention while getting too close, driving too fast, and talking on the phone? I really have no desire to share their apparent death-wish.

Almost 2 years in the water and this is how our Hydrocoat looks.

On the good side we can see that our bottom paint has done an excellent job; that our zincs are eroding too fast, that the stuff that comes out of the galley drain is hard on bottom paint, and that there is a small “smile” repair that needs done. I am reminded that living on a sailboat on the hard is a bit like living in a childhood tree house. Taken in the right frame of mind, it can be kind of fun. So long as it is temporary.

We are, as I suspect happens to most sailors who find themselves on the dry parts of Mother Earth, a bit overwhelmed by the list of things to do. The auto-helm, repairs on the fore deck, and bottom work must all be addressed before we find ourselves floating once again. Adding to the fun, sometime last night the manual windlass barfed its oil all over the fore deck. Not sure what happened, or why, but clearly that has to be rectified before we toss our heavy Mantus and a good length of chain back into the wet parts of Mother Earth. And there is something wonky with our Cape Horn Wind Vane that needs explained and addressed. It is a thing easier done on a step ladder than from a dink in a rough mooring field.

This, I remind myself, is as much a part of the cruising life as being anchored off of Crab Cay in the Abaco Islands. Cruising boats are beat up, battered, used hard, and pushed hard. We have found a good place, surrounded by friends, with family near by, to get ready for the next stage. Some of this time will be spent with Daughters (3) an grand kids (soon to be 9).

And that is all good.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The anatomy of a boat project

The List

Boat Project [n. f*&#%k this!]

  1. specific task, estimated to take 1-3 hours to add, remove, or repair a component on a cruising yacht
  2. something contemplated, devised, or planned
  3. a large or major undertaking, especially one involving considerable money, personnel, or equipment
  4. see also, simple boat project, BoatUS sinking statistics,

Oh to be able to take the words back, "that one should only take me about 2 hours". My job for yesterday was to replace the upholstery on the nav seat, one that we built to replace the really ugly "Jetson" chair, the 60s vinyl captain's chair that was in the boat when we bought it, you know, with the ever-so-popular copper vinyl swoop trims all over it. Tim did a marvelous job building me a new cabinet to store my bakeware in, one that doubled as a nav seat. Unfortunately, the nav seat happens to sit directly next to the engine compartment and ends up being used to set things on, and to hoist yourself up with dirty hands after kneeling next to the engine compartment, and to sit on with dirty work clothes while you research parts and maintenance manuals on the computer. The fabric was showing an immense amount of wear and even washing was not restoring its lustre. Add to that the fact that the fabric was the same used on the settee cushions (which did wash nicely), and it looked even more awful. I decided to recover the seat in something that could be wiped off, some sort of Naugahyde. A trip to Hancock Fabrics with my friend Nancy a few days ago yielded an unexpectedly inexpensive piece of fabric in the discount bin, just big enough to cover the seat not once, but twice, in the event that the sharp edge of some tool finds its way next to the new seat cover.

So anyone with a boat will rapidly recognize how the day went:

  • 8:00 am: Dig out fabric. The fabric has been sitting in the discount bin at Hancock Fabrics for some time, folded, and has pretty defined creases. Unfold the fabric and lay out on deck in the sun to soften the creases.
  • 8:45 am: Sun goes behind clouds. 
  • 8:50 am: Gather a load of laundry to wash and then dry so you can tumble the fabric for a few minutes in the dryer to get the wrinkles out without wasting $1.50 in quarters just for 2 minutes.
  • 8:55 am: Head to the laundry up the hill but then realize you should bring your computer and do a blog post while its washing. Return to boat.
  • 9:00 am: Walk up the hill to the laundry.
  • 9:10 am: Realize you forgot the quarters. Return to boat.
  • 9:20 am: Load of laundry in, computer booting up.
  • 9:55 am: Transfer load to dryer, add fabric.
  • 10:45 am: Fold clothes, loosely roll fabric, return to boat.
  • 11:00 am: No shore power on this dock, so rather than drag the 80# Sailrite up the hill to the laundry, get out extension cord and drag it down the dock to the 110 outlet. Do elaborate cord run through dock cracks so no one trips, wrap around pylons, stretch to boat, plug in additional extension cord, plug into 30a shore power pigtail. Return to outlet and plug in. Climb in boat, plug in Sailrite.
  • 11:10 am: No power at the machine. Climb back out of the boat, go to 110 outlet, check outlet with Tim's shaver. No power. It was working earlier, it's Sunday and I have no idea where the breaker is so I decide to wait till Monday to sew.
  • 11:15 am: Unplug extension cord, coil neatly, unplug pigtail, return all cords to their appropriate storage areas on board. Before stowing Sailrite, walk up hill to talk to Tim and retrieve computer.
  • 11:20 am: Tim tells me where the breaker is. Of course I just stowed the elaborate cord arrangement.
  • 11:30 am: Walk to boat, climb in boat, gather cords, climb out of boat, repeat elaborate cord arrangement.
  • 11:50 am: Stop for lunch.
  • 12:15 pm: Disassemble the nav seat lid, remove old fabric.
  • 12:30 pm: Finally begin to sew.
  • 12:45 pm: Finish sewing, begin installation on seat.
  • 12:50 pm: Begin to locate the staple gun needed to staple the fabric onto the seat base. This involves removing everything in the aft cabin in front of the cabinet door where the staple gun resides. That would be a portable air conditioner and multiple buckets full of cleaning supplies.
  • 1:00 pm: Finish seat installation.
  • 1:05 pm: Begin cleanup.
  • 4:00 pm: Start dinner.
Total time for a 1-1/2 hour sewing project: 8 hours. Sound familiar?